Qantas, ACCC clash over refunds for cancelled flights

Qantas is extending the use-by date for travel credit, but the ACCC wants passengers to know they are still entitled to a refund.

By David Flynn, June 22 2020
Qantas, ACCC clash over refunds for cancelled flights

Qantas and Australia's consumer watchdog have clashed over refunds for flights cancelled by the airline due to the coronavirus pandemic, and may lead to would-be passengers trading in travel credit vouchers issued by Qantas for a full refund.

The stoush stems from Qantas' first wave of cancellations from mid-March 2020 as Covid-19 took hold and the federal government announced a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all arriving passengers. By the end of the month Qantas had grounded all scheduled international flights, while domestic services were also pared back as demand collapsed and states began to close their own borders.

While Qantas emailed all passengers booked on those flights, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission maintains that the wording of the emails sent between 17 March 2020 and 31 May 2020 "did not adequately inform them of their right to receive a refund."

Instead, the ACCC considers that Qantas’ emails "may have encouraged these customers to cancel bookings themselves in order to receive a credit when many would have been eligible for a refund."

Misleading emails?

“From our perspective, from the outset, Qantas did not communicate clearly with customers about their rights and, in a large number of cases, simply omitted they were entitled to a refund,” says ACCC Chair Rod Sims.

Sims says the ACCC’s COVID-19 Taskforce "raised concerns" with Qantas after receiving hundreds of complaints from passengers whose flights were suspended or cancelled due to travel restrictions, but who were given credits "instead of the refunds they were entitled to".

“We do appreciate that the airline industry globally is significantly impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic, but I think that customers can and should expect better from Qantas, particularly when many of those customers may be out of work or experiencing financial hardship.”

Qantas has now sent new emails to impacted customers, reminding them of their right to a refund, but denies the ACCC's claims that the language of the first email was misleading.

"We hope the ACCC is not inferring that we haven’t done the right thing by our customers, particularly given the efforts we have made to manage an exceptional level of upheaval," a Qantas spokesperson said.

New outreach a 'reminder'

"We didn’t think it was unclear to begin with, but we’ve written again to a group of customers in the window of time that the ACCC is concerned about to make sure they know what alternatives are available to them."

The spokesperson said that domestic and international travel restrictions "triggered an unprecedented level of change in recent months, with well over a million Qantas bookings moved, refunded or turned into credits."

"We’ve worked hard to explain people’s options, especially during the period of time when there were almost weekly changes to where you could fly."

Qantas will now also allow travel credits incurred by coronavirus cancellations and disruptions be used through to December 21, 2022, as well as split them across multiple bookings instead of being restricted to a single booking.

This could, for example, allow the travel credit for one international flight to be used for several domestic flights.

Nonetheless, ACCC chief Simms says "if any customer in this situation is unhappy with receiving a credit, or no longer wants one due to continuing uncertainty about when flights will resume, we strongly encourage them to contact Qantas and seek a refund."

Also read: ACCC to monitor Qantas, Virgin Australia airfares

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Aug 2013

Total posts 203

Not to worry people just use your credit for $19 Jetstar flights. Alan Joyce our hero.

16 Dec 2011

Total posts 45

Why just Qantas? This is happening with all airlines and most other travel providers.

22 Jun 2020

Total posts 3

In my experience, I was frustrated with the way Qantas delayed updating their system to reflect cancelled flights. At one stage I was thinking it drifted into an unethical space. I complained to the ACCC and are pleased with their championing the cause. The email Qantas sent to deal with the new ACCC advice still verges on a confusing message speaking mostly about credits. As I wait in the phone queue (90 minutes so far), the former method of ringing you back seems to have been abandoned. The behaviour makes it very difficult to get the refund. Still, I intend to doggedly pursue them for my legal rights.

Singapore was much more transparent. It listed its cancelled flights and honoured the refund. It offered an alternative credit with bonus dollars as well. Qantas only allude to sweeteners such as special offers with their credits.

I think their brand advisers should reflect on the permanent damage being caused by the perulant, self-serving behaviour.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 May 2014

Total posts 450

Qantas have processed my domestic flight cancellations and the travel credits have become available to use immediately. Virgin Australia did not provide immediate email acknowledgement of the cancellation, eventually an email to justify that it would take weeks to process and then went into administration! I get that VA needed to preserve cash, but I expect they will have lost a lot of goodwill as a consequence.

17 Jun 2020

Total posts 159

QF has been extremely unethical with this. Had cancellations on other carriers (SQ, CX, NZ) and refund was processed in 2 weeks max.

Got the email mentioned above from QF, I didn't know I could get refund at the time (was told credit only). Called yesterday after 95 minutes on hold, was told it will take another 8-10 weeks.

This is money I should have had back in March, and won't get it until August at the earliest.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Aug 2014

Total posts 25

I also phoned for a full refund on Sunday, all approved with no question, also told will take 10 weeks or longer.....I made a comment of how quickly they take your money v refunding.....

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Nov 2012

Total posts 61

I've been waiting 12 weeks for a refund (that I was entitled to with my particular J fare class). If I ran my business this way, I'd have customers marching on me with pitchforks. I'm usually a QF fan, but if my small biz can deal with refunds why can't they? I'm sure the ACCC would be on me like a ton of bricks so why aren't they all over QF?

16 Feb 2017

Total posts 2

If you've had a refund from NZ then you are very lucky. They are only refunding flights that are to or via the US and because of US law (and pressure from the NZ Commerce Commission). If you have any other flights with NZ you get a credit only!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 May 2014

Total posts 450

@KW72, interesting that the airlines you have had better experiences with have all received direct Govt cash bailouts.

Etihad - Etihad Guest

21 Jul 2019

Total posts 55

Point well noted: those foreign airlines did receive gov't money. But I also note that in March QF haughtily dismissed the suggestion it would need gov't money (at least in the short term). Seeing that I am no insider, I took QF's word that they have money in the bank. But now I'm scratching my head in confusion as to why QF is seemingly shunting off customers into thinking credits are the only option. That and the fact that it's taking months for refunds. For a seemingly happy, solvent airline, it's sure NOT acting like a happy, solvent airline to some of its customers!

22 Jun 2020

Total posts 3

My refund was processed yesterday after a 120-minute hold on the line. I now can sing the opening verse of "I still call Australia home" in at least one Aboriginal dialect. It was a difficult process. I had to read that part of the standard Qantas email back to the CSO before he would begin the process. I got there in the end.

Separately, it should be noted that the government has supported all Australian airlines underwriting a skeleton schedule of flights. So there has been some government support. Maybe more to come.

no airline should be refunding anyone. There is simply NO MONEY to do so. Don't get why many don't seem to be able to grasp this simple concept.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

12 Apr 2017

Total posts 86

But there is money to give a refund from. It was the money we gave them upfront!

I don't care what other creditors they have, it was our money and should be refunded.

your money was spent months ago to keep airline flying. There is no money for refunds. Any money Qantas has, is to keep airline operating. Might be bad PR but who else are you going to fly with ?

24 Jun 2020

Total posts 7

I too have had a long drawn out relationship with Qantas over credits/refunds. Ironically, I was in the USA when the borders were rapidly closing and chose to fly back to Australia rather than stay in the USA. I had onward Delta flights and I was able to login to my booking reference and got the full refund back onto my credit card within 24 hours. The irony was that I made about $200 on the cancellation as the USD/AUD had crashed thus I picked up a little profit. Why was Delta so generous yet Qantas whom I am a platinum member of, they just didn't seem to care.

19 May 2016

Total posts 15

Does anyone know about the legalities of instituting a credit card chargeback in this scenario? It is public knowledge that Qantas are offering refunds for cancelled flights, and I selected this option online at least 2 months ago, but no refund yet. Has anyone just done a chargeback to get their money back sooner?!

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

12 Apr 2017

Total posts 86

No. I just accepted that Qantas would do the correct thing. I was told 45 days to receive my refund, its over 70 days now. Maybe I should try the credit card chargeback route?

25 Jan 2020

Total posts 2

I paid $1500 for MEL-JFK return flights booked with QF for March, roughly $700 each way. I took the MEL-JFK leg, but the return leg has since been cancelled. Like many others, I received communications from QF omitting refund options, but I could afford to wait so I obliged and did not call during the busy period. Fast forward to two weeks ago, I spoke to a CS agent, who advised me that I will receive a refund of $105 Instead of the ~$700 that I paid. Puzzled, I sought further clarifications and was told that since the return leg was cancelled, they had adjusted the flights out and treated them as a one-way fare. This would normally make sense had I voluntarily initiated the cancellation. However, this was not the case.

Further, when I requested a fare breakdown to see exactly how much I paid in fares, taxes, fees etc... just for my own information and figure out what to do next, I was told they could not make that information public, and insisted that I am only entitled to a “system calculated” $105 refund on a total of $1500 fare. The conversation went in circles from this point.

This doesn't sit quite right with me, but I'd welcome input on what folks think about this situation, and whether it would be worth filing a complaint with the ACCC.

Thank you ETers, and be well.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

12 Apr 2017

Total posts 86

kn_h - my sympathies to you for this. I am sure legally they can do this but honestly, why would they. Hoping you don't bother to complain I guess. I was not sure if I should give your post a thumbs up or down. It could be either!!

15 Mar 2018

Total posts 39

Yes, file with ACCC. If you are in NSW do it with NSW Fair Trading.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Jul 2018

Total posts 3

What credit I have been waiting for QANTAS to refund two expensive international flights since March and keep receiving the run around

23 Aug 2017

Total posts 1

Qantas weren't fast on my refund but they got there. BA are impossible. Filled in the BA forms three times and called. Call takers can only ask that you fill in the form again. So far have only received automated email messages telling me they will respond within 28 days but are very busy. 70 days and counting.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Apr 2015

Total posts 6

I'd love the chance to talk to someone at Qantas, but as I ma stuck overseas, waiting 90+ minutes on hold at international rates would kill me. Also, the email addresses that they advertise on their web site have mysteriously disappeared - I sent emails to the two I found just to have those emails returned marked "Undeliverable: The e-mail address you entered couldn't be found". Feeling abandoned here...

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

27 Aug 2014

Total posts 36

have you tried using a VOIP service provider via wifi / internet and with option to "call out". Any number of service providers. Rates vary according to location but can be as low as 2c per minute. Personally I use the zoiper android app to manage the connection at my end, plus you will need to log in the your chosen service provider.

21 Dec 2012

Total posts 31

sadly QF are the closest to doing "the right thing", VA were not only equally as confusing in their emails encouraging people to take travel credits, they were actively denying valid refund requests and referring to policies created AFTER they'd cancelled the flights (even before administrators had been appointed)

Been waiting greater than 10 weeks for a refund on flights cancelled in March. I did not take a flight credit and waited for Qantas to cancel. I noticed that the link for a refund was at the very bottom of the page on "Manage My Bookings". Would have been easy to miss if I had not scrolled through the whole page. Phone contact for an update was not an option due to ridiculous wait times. My son tipped me off to contact Qantas on Twitter. He did so and it all happened fast. Guess what - a very friendly and apologetic message received within 48 hours and my refund processing has been done as advised via both Twitter and confirmation email. Hope that helps.

18 Mar 2020

Total posts 10

[email protected]

Quote your ref.. it generates an auto response.

01 May 2020

Total posts 3

At least Qantas will be able to pay their CEO Millions of Dollars!

15 Mar 2018

Total posts 39

Happy! Got my full refunds for 10 DSC tickets on Saturday. Started in March when Qantas cancelled flights after initially changing routing day-by-day. Was offered credits, but when I found out from the Platinum desk that the DSC wouldn't be carried forward to new bookings, decided the money was better in my pocket. 45 calls, a number of emails and filing a claim with NSW Fair Trading and after 112 days (16 weeks) I got me refunds. During this time I was referred to my bank, to BPay and watched flights in my account go from refund to credit and back. Oddly I had to provide proof of purchase: have you ever heard of an airline issuing tickets before you pay.

Qantas staff were great, but after being told the same thing for the 10th time, it is clear they are working from a script. Because no travel had taken place, there was no reason for the company to sit on the funds, just a free loan funded by ticket buyers. Pretty poor from a loyalty perspective.

As a Platinum I possibly had it easy because of the Platinum line, but call wait times were ridiculous. Surely the staff were on Job Keeper so excuses like they only work Fridays were weak. Interestingly, my flights with Air NZ, SQ, CX, UA, BA & AA were all refunded in between 55 days and 10 days. Marriott and Accor hotel bookings were refunded in 48 hours (even non-refundable, pre-paid reservations) & Hertz bookings were refunded in 5 days. Guess all of these other organisations have better administration.

Now I'm fighting to get refunds of the Qantas Travel insurance. That is an interesting battle, but is crazy. Because the flights were cancelled, you wouldn't expect a refund to be that difficult.

24 Jun 2020

Total posts 7

OZjames70, I will be very curious about how you go with Qantas Insurance as I too had a policy with them for unfulfilled travel. I asked for a refund and got an email yesterday offering me a credit (sounds familiar huh) to use on a future policy before 30 June 2021. Ironically they even have their own website already on this....

www.travel.insurance.qantas.com/travel-insurance-credit

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Jul 2018

Total posts 3

Oh it ever went funnier today I was told that my money had been refunded but they could not tell me the date . When I insisted it had not they then went into another direction ..........45 minutes later nothing . Different issue different travel but a Scoot ticket for a surf trip took 7 days to sort ( and that is a cut price carrier be it an efficient Singaporean one) !)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Feb 2018

Total posts 8

I had two international trips and five domestic bookings refunded with no issues, all done over different phone calls, not once was the refund questioned, domestics were back on my credit card the following day, international took a week to show up on the card. I had more trouble with Virgin for a domestic booking as they wanted to put it into the business travel bank, a few emails sorted that one out

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Aug 2014

Total posts 25

Out of interest are you P1? I am platinum so had no trouble getting through to the Australian customer service centre (not offshore) also no question re refund but still informed it will take 12+ weeks.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Feb 2018

Total posts 8

Yes P1 and booked through business rewards with a Qantas AMEX, I was told the same thing about processing time that it would be long due to volume of payments etc but was surprised when they arrived much quicker, these were all refund processed in April and May

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Aug 2014

Total posts 25

Thank you, I'm guessing PI had something to do with it :)Mine is just one J class ticket and still waiting. Cheers

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Sep 2018

Total posts 3

I am a Platinum Qantas member have an international trip (business ticket)  that I cancelled and promised a refund in July and was contacted in September to double check if I’d rather have a credit.  Since it was a business class fare, and little hope of going to Europe in 2021, I elected  to stay the course with the refund.  Still waiting.  It’s been over three months from the original cancellation date.  I am not happy.

big deal . Platinum. You probably a member of a very "smal"l group like 200 to 300k or more.

Why would qantas want to give you a refund ?

It's the govt who forced them to cancel flights.

I wouldn't give you a cent back. You're not entitled to it & qantas certainly can't afford to.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Sep 2018

Total posts 3

Hi Regular.  You sound like a sad, angry person.  I pity you.

lkeogh

not me

you're obviously not very important in qantas eyes.

You don't deserve a refund & we want qantas to survive the massive competition coming their way in March.

If qantas fails, which is a real possibility the longer this corona nonscense goes on, fares will increase a lot.

Hope you don't have any qantas shares. If so, I'd be selling them all right now at any price you can get.


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